Underbelly's last meal

Chris Shepherd reveals Underbelly's bittersweet closing date, thanks Houstonians

Chris Shepherd reveals Underbelly's bittersweet closing date

Underbelly will close March 31. Photo by Julie Soefer

The final countdown has begun for Underbelly. The celebrated Houston restaurant will close March 31, the restaurant announced Thursday. 

Hay Merchant will also close April 2 to make renovations to its beer cooler. When it reopens April 22, it will begin serving lunch as well as a few of Underbelly's signature items, such as the celebrated Korean goat and dumplings. 

That this day would come isn't a surprise. Chef-owner Chris Shepherd and business partner Kevin Floyd originally announced their plans in December. In its place, the space will become a new restaurant called Georgia James, a steakhouse inspired by One Fifth Steak that's slated to open this summer. Underbelly will morph into a new restaurant called UB Preserv that will open in the former Poscol space in mid-April. 

Since opening in March 2012, Underbelly has become one of Houston's most prominent restaurants. Chef-owner Chris Shepherd broke Houston's 22-year long drought in the James Beard Best Chef: Southwest category for his innovative cuisine that utilized carefully-sourced, locally-grown to create dishes inspired by Houston's immigrant communities. Underbelly never made any secret of its sourcing; pictures of the people and places that inspired its cooking hang on a wall by the entrance. 

It has also served as an important training ground for the next generation of culinary talent. Ryan Lachaine (Riel), Lyle Bento (Southern Goods), and Patrick Feges (Feges BBQ) have all gone on to launch their own projects. James Beard Rising Star Chef winner Daniela Soto-Innes worked on Underbelly's opening crew before moving to New York to join up with superstar Mexican chef Enrique Olvera on his award-winning restaurants Cosme and Atla. 

The restaurant doesn't have any specific plans to bring back former cooks or revive favorite dishes during its final month, but either of those things are certainly possible. It will celebrate both its closing and the sixth birthday of its sister concept Hay Merchant with a party on April 1 that will include food, beer from Sierra Nevada, and Makers Mark cocktails. Tickets are available for $40

Shepherd has mostly kept his plans for UB Preserv under wraps, but he did offer diners a preview last week during a pop-up at Fluff Bake Bar. His dishes included Sichuan-style pork dumplings, char siu octopus with chili sesame puree, and a dim sum-style scallion pancake filled with pork. Which of these dishes make the menu remains to be seen, but Lindsey Brown, Shepherd's longtime girlfriend and publicist, said she's challenged him to make Houston's best dumplings. 

That sounds like a pretty good start.